Brief Lives From Facts to Fiction

Written 11th July 2016 by Olliers Solicitors

Martha Whitehead, Specialist Criminal Defence Lawyer, discusses her experience advising BBC Radio 4 Scriptwriters on Police Station Procedure

Like a Dickensian Gradgrind it seems that some work days are filled with facts and the searching for facts alone but then occasionally we get a glimpse of the world outside where facts are created to make fiction. I had one such day a couple of months ago when a call was put through from reception. Would I speak to someone from the BBC? They want to know about police stations. Thus I was introduced to Tom Fry and Sharon Kelly script writers for BBC radio. They have now crafted series nine of their continuing drama Brief Lives which is based around police station advisors and set in Manchester.

Modern Day Police Station Interviews

Tom has in the past worked as a criminal lawyer but his initial enquiry was to ask what sounds had changed in the police station. It is immediately hard to recollect background noise when you have been absorbed in observing and challenging the comments of officers and defendants. However Tom had rightly realised that with the age of digitisation the background noise has changed and wanted to make correct suggestions to the audio engineers. Yes, we no longer have officers unwrapping untampered cassette tapes from cellophane like a crackling toffee bag, we now have digital recording started with fingers drumming on a touch screen and commenced with a low buzz. Exactly what sort of buzz , I checked my recollection with colleagues returning from the day’s police station attendances.

Increased Digital Working

I met further with Tom and Sharon to talk about how we work and the features of advising lay clients in Greater Manchester. As always client confidentiality is paramount in our work but they found it useful to consider how over the years changes have occurred in the upgrading of police stations and the centralising of custody and interviewing to far fewer police stations across the county. Olliers are leading the way amongst defence practitioners in widening digital working, for example colleagues now record notes at the police station digitally and have introduced an app to allow legal aid applications to be signed digitally and submitted electronically.

Recording of Brief Lives at Media City, Salford

In return, on the 19th July, I was invited to see how they work or more accurately how a radio drama recording is done at Media City, Salford. Similar to our police station work I observed a team of highly skilled people working in windowless rooms. The similarities ended there. No one was drunk, drugged, agitated or demanding.  We watched the cast recording various screens in booths giving different background sound. The sound engineers seemed very precise and picked up on features that at first you didn’t notice but if broadcast would disturb a whole program. Was an actor rustling a script, no, it was spotted that it was the noise of their shirt and they had to try to remain staionary. Scenes were rehearsed and then recorded with a couple of takes. The script carried a notice to actors that the day required hard shoes so that walking in and out of scenes could be recorded.

In the green room we met the cast including David Schofield and Sally Dexter who play the partners in the fictional agency of police station advisors. David who has played roles in pirates of the Caribbean and Gladiator and has a Lancashire accent to rival my colleague Tim McArdle showed his experience in adapting rapidly to the direction. He is also a renowned classical actor and created the role of the Elephant Man at the National Theatre.  Sally is an Olivier winner and had a real understanding of legal aid work and its funding pressures.

The new series of Brief Lives starts on BBC Radio Four at 14.15 on Monday 11th July and subsequent Mondays. For those of us confined in the cells it will be available later on BBC iPlayer.

Martha Whitehead – Specialist Criminal Defence Lawyer

Written by Martha Whitehead. Martha qualified as a solicitor in 1992 and joined Olliers Solicitors in 2001. She has in excess of 20 years of experience as a specialist crime practitioner and specialises in the defence of serious crime.

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